Imagine that you are fresh out of high school and eager to take a bite at the world. Picture yourself getting on an airplane with nothing but a suitcase, a backpack and a brochure of a foreign university along with an acceptance letter. Now think of you arriving to a place of the planet where you have never been before and although you know the language, everything seems difficult to understand – nothing resembles what you have learned in TV Sitcoms.
I don’t have to imagine this scene as eight years ago today, I came to this country to embark in the most exciting adventure of my life. I had left everything I had known behind to attend college at the United States. This may seem rather gutsy for some people but the truth is that hundreds of thousands of foreign people come to this country to pursue a superior education degree every year. Some come as exchange students but some, like me, are here to stay for the duration of a 4-year-degree.
When people ask me why did you do it? I really can’t say exactly why, I can only say that making that decision is like buying that big ticket item that one has dreamed of for a while. Is like that car that you saved up for a period of time, having the image of you driving it in your mind. When you finally have all what you need to get it, you hesitate for a second but then an impulse from within tells you to do it so you buy it. Once you are behind the wheel and start the engine, you begin a road trip that ties you to that dream you had forever.
Coming to the US to go to school has been that car I bought not knowing how long it would last before having to take it in for an oil change or a repair. At the beginning of my road trip through the avenues of newness and culture shock I was very excited, loving every bit of my experience. But then, on the day when my closest friends back home were all getting together without me, I felt like getting that car checked out. Was it not working all that well or why didn’t I feel as happy anymore?
It is in moments like those when you realize that you are now living in different dimensions. In my case, my life slices in many different chunks as I have lived in three different countries so far and have some of my best friends living in seven different countries at the moment. It is very difficult not to miss what you don’t have available in the physical dimension where your body currently inhabits, but I find that taking the car for a check up regularly does help to keep it running. Stopping for an oil change or tire rotation is just part of who you become when you live in a foreign country.
The first few times that nostalgia knocked on my door, I thought I needed to escape. I wanted to get on the first plane and join my friends at a party, my family for a birthday celebration. But in rare occasions one can just leave the real world to go mingle in that one of a younger you who lived in a different place. I had to learn quickly about the emotional roller coaster that living a sliced life entails. Some days you feel like the happiest person alive, some others, you are so homesick that you can barely produce a smile.
I have tried to cut all ties with my non-physical dimensions before but it didn’t work. I just can’t forget all who I am and the people that I carry in me like those childhood friends, or the ones made when sharing a dorm in school. I learned to live as a sliced individual who cherishes every dimension that has meaning to her life. Most days it works like this: I keep in touch on Facebook with friends abroad, email some on regular basis, call my closest friends and family on the phone or via Skype regularly so we can all keep up to date with what’s going on in our lives and go out with the friends of my physical world as often as I can to feel like I’m not just living through a computer or a phone line.
It sounds exhausting, huh? It really is not, it mainly is just hard. Like when your parents are dying to hug your baby every time they see her through the computer or when your best friends in the whole world wanted to see you in the hospital but distance made them place a phone call instead. I get very blue some days but then one of the special persons in my life reminds me that the important thing is that connection that we have – so strong that it doesn’t need to be physical to exist.
Now eight years down the road, I’m still living in the place where I came to study (one that I never imagined to stay at for this long) and I can say that no matter all my ups and downs and the visits paid by nostalgia, I am happy. I live with the two people who matter the most to me in the whole world, my husband and my baby. They are the greatest mechanics for that car I bought some time ago.